GREAT LEADERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN

1998 by William A. Cohen

All rights reserved, but may be quoted or reproduced with attribution.  

This article appeared first in Network World, December 21, 1998 and an abbreviated version in The Journal of Accountancy June, 1999

 

                There are many well-educated and motivated people who lack the knowledge of how to lead others.  So they donít assume leadership positions, or if they do, they donít do very well in them. They and others too, assume that these individuals just werenít born to be leaders.

                Thatís really a tragedy, because our country and our people need good leaders. Corporations, associations, and athletic teams all need good leaders. Even parents must be good leaders or their families can become dysfunctional. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that our very success as a nation depends upon good leadership.

                But my research shows conclusively that effectiveness as a leader depends less on some innate trait you are born with, and much more on specific principles that anyone can follow.

                One of our greatest military leaders was General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. He eventually became the U.S. Air Forceís second Chief of Staff.  General Robert Danforth who was Commandant of Cadets at West Point when General Vandenberg was a cadet told me an amazing story. ďGeneral Vandenberg was not a natural leader. In fact, we almost dismissed him from the Academy for lack of leadership ability at the end of his first year. Instead, we counseled him. He took note and applied himself. He was a very competent leader by the time he graduated. Clearly he continued to develop himself afterwards.Ē

                What are the principles you must follow? They come directly from my research. They so clearly stood out from the more than 200 leaders that I interviewed, that I call them ďThe Eight Universal Laws of Leadership.Ē They are simple . . . but as you will see, they are not always so easy to follow.

        Maintain absolute integrity. Leadership is a trust. If others donít trust you completely, they will not follow you in every instance. Instead, they will try to decide each situation on its own merits, whether to trust you or not. If the environment you are in is relatively calm, you may be able to lead without too much difficulty. But if your situation requires you to make real demands on others, at a time when you must really depend on them, they will hesitate to support you. Then the lack of complete trust will be apparent and may well cause you to fail.

        Know your stuff. If you are the leader, those that would follow you donít care two straws about whether you are good at office politics or not. They want you to be competent and know what you are doing. Thatís what counts for them. So, your office politicking may get you promoted, but it will not win the respect of those you want to follow you. Only what you know and what you can do will do that.

        Declare your expectations. You canít get there until you know where there is. Decide on your ďthereĒ and then continually promote your goals, objectives, and vision.

        Show uncommon commitment. You can bet no one else is going to be committed to your goals if you arenít.

        Expect positive results. Winners expect to win and losers expect to lose. Vincent Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all time said, ďWe never lose, but sometimes the clock runs out on us.Ē You can expect positive results and still not get exactly what you want. But, research demonstrates that those who ďthink positiveĒ achieve more wins than losses and overall better results than those that donít.

        Take care of your people or customers. If you take care of them, they will take care of you. The reverse is also true.

        Put duty before self. As a leader, you have a duty to accomplish the mission you are assigned, and you have a duty to take care of those who follow you. Sometimes the mission must come first, sometimes your followers comes first. However, the interests of both must always come before the personal interests or well-being of the leader.

        Get out in front. This law includes setting the example, and being where the action is. Donít sit in an air-conditioned office making decisions and call that leadership. Go out and talk to your people. See whatís going on and be seen. Thatís leadership!

        Not like this in your company or with your boss? Well, how do you like to follow a leader who disregards the eight universal laws? Are you happy with working for such a leader? Do you want to do the best that you possibly can for him or her? Probably not.

You may not be able to control or change your boss, or other leaders in your company. So, do what is right, anyway. Others will soon recognize another "born" leader. If you keep at it, they may even say you are a great leader. You. However, will know the truth. You may or may not be a great leader, but you were most definitely made, and not born as one.

 

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